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Jordan Cracking Down on Sweatshop Abuses - Minister

Reuters  |  June 16, 2006  |  Share

Jordan Cracking Down on Sweatshop Abuses - Minister

Friday June 16, 2006

By Doug Palmer


WASHINGTON, June 16 (Reuters) - Jordan has told clothing manufacturers accused of severely mistreating foreign workers who help make clothes for the U.S. market to "shape up or ship out," a top Jordanian official said on Friday.

"Under no circumstances can we allow any such violations of labor rights, human rights or human trafficking to take place on Jordanian soil," Jordanian Minister of Trade and Industry Sharif Zobi told reporters during a U.S. visit.

A report last month from the National Labor Committee for Worker and Human Rights, an advocacy group based in New York, said tens of thousands of foreign workers employed in Jordan's textile sector were routinely forced to work 100-plus hours a week while being cheated of their full wages.

Workers who complained risked being beaten, imprisoned or even deported without being paid, the report said. The report also said several women had been raped by factory managers, including one who later hanged herself.

Jordan enjoys preferential access to the U.S. market under a bilateral free trade pact, as well as "qualified industrial zones" (QIZs) in conjunction with  Israel and the West Bank.

Clothing accounts for about 90 percent of Jordan's exports to the United States, which last year totaled $1.27 billion. Customers include U.S. retailers such J.C. Penney, Sears, Wal-Mart and Target.The Jordan Labor Ministry's own investigation found only one instance of violence used against an employee and could not verify any instances of rape, Jordanian officials said.

Zobi said the government takes the NLC report very seriously and has told the 114 companies operating in the QIZs it will not tolerate any abuses.

"They either shape up or ship out," Zobi said, estimating that problems are confined to about 10 percent of the companies that produce clothing for the U.S. market. If criminal violations are found, Jordan will prosecute, he said.

The 9-million-member AFL-CIO labor has demanded the U.S. government launch its own investigation into work conditions at the factories. It also plans to file a formal complaint under labor provisions of the bilateral trade agreement.

Zobi defended Jordan's labor laws, but said the country's inspection regimeappeared to have "failed us miserably." Jordan plans to fix those problems with help from the United States and the International Labor Organization, he said.

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